Both Florida Keys snorkeling and scuba diving are popular outdoor activities on the islands. With the only coral reef barrier in the continental United States, this is a great place to explore our undersea world. The reef, which actually comprises about 6,000 reefs, extends the entire length of the island chain, and there is Key West snorkeling in the southernmost island and snorkeling in Key Largo closest to the Florida mainland—and great snorkeling everywhere in between.
Key Largo snorkel trips will undoubtedly take you to John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park, the country's first underwater marine park and the only living barrier coral reef in the United States. It is also the third-largest in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Meso-American Reef in Belize. Snorkeling in Key Largo brings you close to more than 250 species of colorful tropical fish, great barracuda, giant rays, and much more.
For those interested in shipwrecks, Florida Keys snorkeling allows you to explore plenty of them. The Keys have a long and colorful history beginning with Ponce de Leon and his fruitless search for the Fountain of Youth in the sixteenth century. Swashbuckling pirates plied these waters, and rumrunners used the islands to smuggle booze during the Prohibition era. Many a ship wrecked on the reefs. No place highlights this history as much as Key West, a vibrant town with numerous museums among its many attractions and plenty of shipwrecks on its offshore reefs. Key West snorkeling puts you closest to this rich past. From here, you can even go on snorkeling tours to pristine Dry Tortugas National Park 70 miles to the west.
If you're going to snorkel in Key West you will probably be doing it from a boat. Sailing is important here, and there are sailing vessels, from small to large catamarans and tall ships to racing sailboats, available for tours that often include snorkeling and even dolphin swims. Catamarans make excellent snorkeling vessels for the novice in your group, as they have ramps that lower into the water, allowing you to enter gradually as you become accustomed to the new environment. They also are more stable, creating less motion for those prone to seasickness, and provide canopies for protection from the sun.
Many Key West hotels, and even some camping areas, have snorkeling programs. If you're on a family vacation, some of the resorts have supervised snorkeling activities for the children in the group. Key West snorkeling trips can last for half a day or be full-day tours.
Florida Keys snorkeling is excellent everywhere else on the archipelago. Marathon Key offers Sombrero Reef, off Sombrero Beach, as well as other shipwrecks for snorkeling. Big Pine Key boasts the huge area of the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, a critical nesting area for endangered sea turtles and habitat for scores of bird species. In addition, when you are snorkeling in Key Largo you can also explore the wreck of a British World War II ship and two Coast Guard cutters that were intentionally sunk in 1987. These are all now are coral-covered environments.